Columbia tragedy points way for world peace

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, February 5, 2003

Can any good come out of the space shuttle Columbia's flaming disintegration and loss of life last Saturday? Yes, I think so, and one example – and a cause for real hope in a world bent on war – has already emerged from the Middle East.

The day after the tragedy, I was checking the Internet for newspaper reactions. One editorial, in particular, caught my attention. Titled "Columbia Crash," it appeared in the Feb. 2 edition of Arab News, an English language daily published in Saudi Arabia.

"The destruction of the NASA space shuttle Columbia is . . . a tragedy for everyone, not just the United States, India and Israel," the editorial declared.

"We have all lost in this disaster. A technological challenge has been thrown down and once again, a warning given that in the unforgiving region of space, nothing can be taken for granted. The solutions may be a long time coming.

"They will come. The struggle to conquer . . . space will go on. All that we can hope for is that, when the battle is won, the knowledge gained in the process will add to human happiness, not to human misery."

As I reflected on these words, it occurred to me that Arab News had addressed the struggle, not only of conquering space, but of achieving peace on earth, as well.

The article described the Columbia disaster as a "warning" that space can be "unforgiving," that "nothing can be taken for granted," and that "solutions may be a long time coming." Substitute the word "war" for "space," and you see where I'm going: once war is launched, nothing can be taken for granted, and the consequences can be terribly unforgiving.

Already, NASA is doing everything possible to determine if anything could have been done to prevent the shuttle disaster. Were there hints of trouble early on that experts should have taken seriously to avoid the nightmare-in-the-sky over Texas? Were there any last-minute changes and instructions that could have saved the lives of the seven astronauts?

Likewise, as war with Iraq looms ever nearer, are political leaders doing everything in their power to find options other than war for resolving the conflict? If they implement these options in time, is there a chance they can save the world from an explosive nightmare costing hundreds of thousands of lives?

Will their choices over the next few weeks "add to human happiness?" Or will they increase "human misery?"

Since the Columbia tragedy, many have turned their eyes skyward in prayer, calling on God for comfort.

Some years ago, my wife Mary Anna and I looked skyward and had our own special experience of God's comforting presence. I've written about it before, but it bears repeating, especially as a peaceful reminder of who ultimately holds the stars, earth, space shuttles and nations in His hands.

We were taking a stroll above Ghost Lake one autumn evening after supper. The vista was grand.

The first range of the Rockies stretched across the western horizon. Scattered among the hills and flatlands around us were the homes of many friends we have come to know over the years we've spent in the Bow River Valley. In the lake, a large flock of coots and a few ducks were settling down near some shore grasses for the approaching night. The sound of a loon echoed briefly. The air was still, scented with sage, juniper and prairies grasses.

The sacredness of the moment reminded us of lines from the 24th Psalm: "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein."

Before long, a salmon-pink hue enveloped the landscape. We looked overhead.

There, spreading across the sunset sky, was a giant hand made of clouds, with palm, four fingers, and thumb, extended out palm-down in radiant splendor over the entire scene.

It was as if the One to whom all things belong were conferring a special blessing on this sacred place with a song: "I've got the whole world in my hands; I've got the whole wide world in my hands."

And into our hands has been placed an awesome trusteeship on His behalf. May the death of seven astronauts not be in vain.

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

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